Coq au Vin
For most of us cooks who’ve been at this for a while, there are certain recipes we return to over and over again. By now, I have a greatest hits list for every season. Sure, I’m always up for trying a new recipe—and given that I need to test recipes for my cookbook reviews I try quite a few—but the oldies but goodies are the ones that warm my heart. Those are the ones that are steeped in storytelling.
Yet as each season draws to a close I am ready to move on to the next . Now, at the end of winter I am already anticipating asparagus season and the spring lamb stew I make every year. But nature has its own ideas. The second nor’easter in five days slammed the East coast and dumped a pile of wet, heavy snow on the emergent daffodils.
The problem with these late winter storms is what to cook. I’d already made everything on my must-cook list for winter: beef daube, braised short ribs, lasagna, French onion soup. Check, check, check and check. One day it was warm enough to be out in the garden cutting back some ornamental grasses, the next I was stuck inside watching the snow fall.
When I sat down the day before the snow arrived to peruse my cookbooks for storm cooking inspiration, my husband—whose recipe suggestions are usually met with a puzzled look followed by a kind of guffaw on my part—gave a shout out for coq au vin. “What a great idea!”, I exclaimed (probably surprising him for agreeing so readily).
For whatever reason , I haven’t made coq au vin in years. It used to be a regular in my winter cooking rotation, but it fell by the wayside—perhaps replaced by beef daube which came along much later. Come to think of it, nearly all the recipes I now turn to in winter are post-coq au vin. Coq au vin came from a different era in my life, the time when I was single. I used to make it when I would invite someone for dinner at my apartment on the Upper West Side. The recipe, not surprisingly, came from one of the Silver Palate cookbooks, one of the defining cookbooks of my young adulthood in the ‘80s and ‘90s.
As soon as the idea of cooking coq au vin took hold, I did what I always do and ran through my mental catalogue of all the times I have cooked it before. And then I wondered why I had let the recipe go.
Before I met my husband I mostly cooked for myself. In New York I had the luxury of picking up something on the way home from work every day: a piece of fish or a chop to grill and of course some vegetables which I bought at a corner green grocer near my apartment. Occasionally I would purchase a single serving turkey pot pie from Zabar’s or a half rotisserie chicken from the place on Broadway and 86th just opposite my subway stop.
Once or twice a year I would have a small dinner party. I cooked one of three dishes: a lamb stew served with white beans from Patricia Wells’ A Food Lover’s Guide to Paris, a braised, stuffed loin of pork served with red cabbage I learned to make in cooking class and coq au vin. Up until now, the pork loin recipe is the only one that has survived, the others having been relegated to the neglected and forgotten pile, relics of a less happy time in my life.
When I married my husband at the ripe old age of forty-six, my world became so much more expansive. I don’t mean to say that my life as a single person did not have texture or richness. I traveled all over the world both for business and pleasure, I had many cultural experiences in New York with friends and I pursued a variety of interests. That said, I felt a persistent gnawing limitation as a party of one. But as part of a couple, the door to life somehow seemed that much wider.
It was certainly wider in the kitchen. With two people, my cooking universe doubled. All those recipes meant for families I had been assiduously clipping from the food section of the Times or bookmarking in my cookbooks were suddenly available to me. Those stored up recipes were something akin to a hope chest. Just as young women used to set aside linens or dishes or whatever might one day serve them when they set up housekeeping as a married woman, I collected recipes in the hopes that one day I would have a family to cook for.
Of course, by the time we married, we were too old to start a family. Still, my husband reminds me all the time that we are a family of two. And so I cook for my family. I love my little family. It means that when I cook something for just the two of us like lasagna or beef daube there will be leftovers for another meal. And leftovers is something else I love. It’s called emergency preparedness.
I don’t know what recesses of my husband’s food memory came up with the notion of cooking coq au vin during the latest storm—I’m nearly certain I only made it for him once years ago for a dinner party. But it was a homey, inspired choice. I was glad to make friends again with a recipe from my past.
Coq au Vin
Adapted from The New Basics Cookbook by Julie Rosso & Sheila Lukins
What I like about this particular coq au vin is that it is made with white wine instead of red, making it a touch lighter. The original recipe is called Coq au Vino Blanco and calls for a dry Italian white wine. I’ve made a few changes here and there, mostly to the technique.
It is just the ticket on a snowy day while you’re waiting for spring to arrive.
2 Cups white pearl onions
6 slices thick slab bacon, cut into 1” pieces
1 pound white button mushrooms, stems removed, caps quartered
Pinch of sugar
1 medium yellow onion roughly chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
¾ Cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon sweet paprika
1 whole chicken cut into 8 pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups Italian white wine
1 cup chicken stock
1 large or two small bay leaves
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme, tied together with string or ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- Heat the oven to 400°
- Bring a medium pot of water to the boil. With a paring knife, make a small X at the root end of each pearl onion and drop the onions in the boiling water to cook for about 10 minutes. Drain, cool and peel off the skin. (I discovered that if you hold the root end in one hand and pinch the top in the other, the peeled onion will just squirt out at the root end. Makes for fast work.)
- Spread the bacon in a 12-inch cast iron skillet so that no pieces overlap. Slide it into the oven and cook for 20-25 minutes or until the fat has rendered and the bacon is cooked, but not crisp.
- Remove the bacon from the skillet and place on a plate lined with paper towel to drain.
- Heat the skillet with the bacon fat on medium high on the stove and toss in the peeled and cooked pearl onions. Keep moving them around so they begin to brown and then sprinkle some sugar over the onions so they begin to caramelized (about 5 minutes). Remove them from the skillet with a slotted spoon and set them aside in a large serving bowl or casserole. (You’ll be adding other things to this bowl for later use so make sure it is large enough).
- Toss in the quartered mushroom caps and keep them moving in the skillet as well until they begin to give up their juices. (You may need to add a bit of butter if the skillet seems dry). Remove them from the skillet with a slotted spoon and add them to the dish with the onions until later.
- Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a Dutch oven on the stove over medium low heat. Add the chopped yellow onions and cook over low heat until the onions are soft and translucent. (About 8-10 minutes.) Remove the onions with a slotted spoon and add them to the dish with the pearl onions and mushrooms.
- With a whisk, stir together the flour, paprika, salt and pepper in a shallow dish.
- Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in the Dutch oven over medium high heat.
- Dredge each piece of chicken in the flour mixture and shake off any excess then place the pieces, skin side down in the hot oil and brown all sides until they are golden.
- Remove the browned chicken pieces to the serving dish with the other cooked ingredients. Drain off excess fat from the Dutch oven, return to the stove over medium high heat and add 1 cup of the wine, scraping up any browned bits at the bottom of the pan.
- Return the chicken to the Dutch oven in a single layer and add the cooked onions, mushrooms, pearl onions and bacon. Pour over the remaining wine and 1 cup of chicken stock. Tuck in the thyme and bay leaves.
- Cover tightly and bring to a boil on the stove, then lower the heat to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes or until the chicken is fully cooked when tested with a knife or instant read thermometer.
- Remove the chicken and other solids to a warm platter and place in a 200° oven. Skim off some fat from the liquid, turn the heat up on the stove and reduce the sauce by half until slightly thickened. Pour the sauce over the chicken and serve with mashed potatoes or egg noodles. Sprinkle with chopped parsley if you wish.